OMB's tech changes start with new role for CIOs

Friday - 12/3/2010, 6:57am EST

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Office of Management and Budget is laying the groundwork to once again try to empower federal chief information officers.

After having fought for years to move out of the back room and into board room, federal CIO Vivek Kundra is working with Congress to give every agency technology executive power of the purse at least over commodity technology, such as e-mail, infrastructure and even cybersecurity.

"I've been spending a lot of time on the Hill working with the appropriations committees to consolidate commodity IT under the CIO," Kundra said Thursday in Washington during a panel discussion sponsored by Government Executive. "We may have to work committee-by-committee to get this change done."

Only the Veterans Affairs Department CIO has full IT budget control by law, while the Homeland Security Department's CIO has budget authority over any technology investment worth more than $1 million. Beyond those two agencies, few CIOs have total control over technology spending.

Kundra said giving CIOs full budget control over commodity IT makes sense because the business people don't care where the data center is or how they get e-mail-they just want it to work. But he said that doesn't mean CIOs should be just resigned to the back office. CIOs still play a key role in helping to manage and oversee all systems.

"Commodity IT is a no brainer that you will gain efficiencies whether it's consolidating data centers, database licenses or financial systems across the department," he said. "But for mission IT, say if you are the FAA, it makes sense to run the Next Generation Air Transportation System, but they don't need to own the data centers or the back end systems. We've noticed there is a failure rate when the business people don't own the technology or don't own the project. And there is a huge failure rate when the technology people are not involved in these decisions."

Kundra said the budgetary changes are among several CIOs should expect over the next five years.

OMB will announce its roadmap for changing how IT is managed and procured Dec. 9. Kundra said he will reveal the implementation plan to the changes Jeff Zients, OMB's deputy director for management, discussed Nov. 19.

"The management reforms that we are talking about such as productizing the TechStat accountability sessions, the CIO would be very involved hand-in-hand with the business side," Kundra said. "At the end of the day, the most successful projects are where they have partnered well, and the worst projects are where they don't get along or they are moving in different directions."

Along with the implementation plan, Kundra said OMB will address changes to the CIO's role.

Industry and government sources have said over the past year that OMB was working on a new memo about the role of the CIO. Kundra would not comment directly on whether a memo exists, but said wait until Dec. 9 for more information.

"We want to shift CIOs and resources away from spending so much time on servicing the infrastructure and more on executing mission critical projects," he said.

The idea of moving out of the infrastructure business and into the mission-critical system business is not new. The Bush administration had a similar goal starting with back-office systems such as payroll, financial and human resources management.

The Obama administration is taking on the same fight, but mandating the use of cloud computing for these services.

"I see collaboration, e-mail, video and light-weight workflow services will move quickly to the cloud," Kundra said. "Within the next 18 months, what I would love to be able to do is challenge the industry to be able to provide for the government cloud based financial systems. There is no reason for the government to be owning and operating these financial systems."

Zients announced in November a cloud-first policy and the upcoming implementation guidance as well as the 2012 budget request will further detail how agencies are to go about it.

Kundra said the cloud-first strategy includes three parts:

  • Part 1 is what the General Services Administration, the Recovery Board and others have done in using commercial platforms.

  • Part 2 is government-owned and operated platforms such as NASA Nebula or the Defense Information Systems Agency's RACE environment where security and privacy issues are vital. He said agencies are working on plans for 2012 to develop and use these platforms.

  • Part 3 is to have agencies rethink how grants work with state and local governments. Kundra said this will take longer, but it's on the horizon.